Christian Long

Chris Jordan: Pictures Excess

In TED Talks on April 18, 2010 at 4:20 pm

Reflection by KATHY B.

Original TED page w/ speaker bio, links, comments, etc:

Chris Jordan:  Picturing Excess

4 million plastic cups. 40 million paper cups. 2.3 million prisoners. 400,000 deaths due to cigarettes. 213,000 prescription misuses.

These are all just empty numbers, simply enormous statistics that no one cares to pay any attention to or try to understand.

Chris Jordan is trying to change that. He has brilliantly taken these emotionless statistics and turned them into artwork that’s overflowing with emotion. His artwork hits you where it hurts; he ensures that you can no longer fail to pay attention to these numbers.

So how does he do it?

He takes a figure, such as the 4 million plastic cups used daily on airplanes (and not recycled), and uses that to create his art. For example, with the plastic cups, his piece consists of 4 million plastic cups all stacked together, which, from far away, look like some intricate piping system of some sort, but from a closer viewpoint the cups become clear and Jordan truly gets the message across in an undeniable way. The difference between his art and the simple number is that when we look at a mere number, no matter how large, it is hard to fathom how much that number truly represents and what it entails. Jordan’s artwork, on the other hand, is impossible to mistake, and impossible to ignore. He displays right in front of our eyes what those numbers actually look like and what they truly mean, and he does so in such an emotional way that we are finally forced to care.

400,000 people die every year in the United States from smoking cigarettes. On the outside, while that number does seem incredible, if a person just glanced at it in a magazine one day it would be forgotten the next. However, if someone were to look at Chris Jordan’s portrayal of this statistic, his piece where each death is represented by a cigarette box, and all of the boxes come together to form the image of Vincent Van Gogh’s “Skull with Cigarette”, the image would be much more difficult to shake.

A point Mr. Jordan makes that I find fascinating yet almost disturbing is the fact that when the United States saw 3000 citizens fall to terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, the country collectively stood up in shock, grief, and outrage, and united behind the common cause to never allow such a tragedy occur again. That day is commemorated every year, and is still present in a part of most Americans’ minds even now, especially at airports.

However, 1,100 Americans die every single day from smoking, and yet that goes unnoticed by the rest of the nation. What does this say about our country?

Maybe it is due to the fact that America quite literally watched the horrors of 9/11 happen. We saw videos and pictures of the attacks on the news that day, and continued to see more footage for weeks afterwards. Cigarette-related deaths, on the other hand, are for the most part only shown to us in numerical figures. When we are forced to actually see the effects tragedies have and visualize the consequences, we have a much more immediate and passionate emotional response than if we simply see each victim as just another stat.

This is why I truly appreciate Chris Jordan’s work and his passion.

With his artwork, our country may finally be able to see the everyday horrors of life in a meaningful way, and may thus be able to take the first collective steps toward doing what Jordan clearly wishes most: changing for the better.

I encourage you all to visit Chris Jordan’s website and take a look at his other works not shown in his talk. He has sets that portray global culture as well as that of America individually. His pieces are all quite incredible, passionate, and thought-provoking, and are definitely worth the time to view them.


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